Sound checks are generally just part of a band’s daily routine—get to the venue, play a few songs to dial in the sound, then get out until the show hours later.
But that’s not the case for Incubus.
“A lot of new music ideas that we have actually come from sound checks when we’re on tour,” said turntablist Chris Kilmore in a phone interview. “There was a period of time where all we did was tour, almost 10 years straight. We didn’t really have much time other than when we stepped off the tour bus to write a record real quick.”
“So over the years, once we get our sound check straight on stage, we just start jamming and we always record,” he said. “So after sound check, we might say ‘oh, that was a cool idea’ and go back and revisit it and then work on it for a couple days.” From this initial improvisation, band members add their own ideas and the loose jam session shapes into a fully-formed song.
So, Kilmore said, he expects the veteran alternative rockers to create a bunch of new songs this summer and fall as they go out on their first tour since 2019. Their return to live music includes a stop at West Valley’s USANA Amphitheatre on Aug. 24 with special guest Sublime With Rome.
Getting kicked off the road by COVID was a shock to the system for Incubus, whose bread and butter is touring, year after year after year.
“It felt like somebody just slammed the brakes on,” Kilmore said. “We’re riding on this really cool tour bus and somebody just slams the brake on and says, ‘Okay, you’re done. Stop, get out.’”
Kilmore spent the past couple of years honing his musicianship at home. He played the keyboards, which he picked up later in life, studied music theory, and, of course, furthered the turntable skills and sounds he’s been making since he was a preteen growing up in Pennsylvania.
“I saw Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince when I was young and Jazzy Jeff blew my mind,” Kilmore said. “At that moment, I was like, ‘Man, I want to try to do that.’” He started DJing at 13, continued through high school and college in Washington D.C. and moved to Los Angeles, where he became part of the Jedi Knights DJ crew.
“We would link all of our turntables together,” he said. “We’d make beats and things like that live together.” As the DJs collaborated and melded their sound, Kilmore had a revelation. “I’m like, ‘We’re a band,’” he remembered. “That opened up my mind.”
That mind opening led to invitations to join rock bands, who were adding DJs to the sound mix in the “nu metal” movement. Eventually, an invitation came from Incubus, who were looking for a replacement for Gavin Koppel.
Joining Incubus for its 1998 tour behind the band’s album S.C.I.E.N.C.E., Kilmore went into the studio with Incubus to create Make Yourself, 1999 double platinum breakthrough album that yanked the band out of the nu metal mass and into the rock mainstream.
Kilmore’s experience as a DJ helped the band stand out during its late-’90s breakthrough. “There was a point there where I felt like a DJ in a rock band was really cliche,” he said. “Every band out there was trying to come up with a DJ. But I felt like I was always a little different than those guys.”
In large part, that difference was rooted in Kilmore’s musical approach, which aimed at incorporating the turntables almost like another instrument in the group.
“I always felt like when you scratch on top of music, regardless of what genre it is, it’s equivalent to a guitar solo,” he said. “It sticks out. It’s loud. It’s hard to sing over it or do other rhythmic things over top of it without that [scratching] being the focal point. So I was always conscious of that.”
Incubus’ music has moments where Kilmore’s scratching is the focal point, but he takes care to integrate his instrument with the band’s overall sound. “That was actually the hardest thing to achieve with this band—how do I get into this and not stick out and blend in just like everybody else is blending in?” Over time, the band’s genre evolved and shifted. Kilmore recognized “now our sound is developing and…getting bigger and we’re not a nu metal band.’”
That change wasn’t just evident musically. It could be seen in the Incubus audience, which Kilmore initially saw on the S.C.I.E.N.C.E. tour.
“Back then it was all guys,” he said. “It was the mosh pits. It was guys shaking the barricade.” When “Pardon Me,” the hit first single from Make Yourself, was released, a different crowd responded to the band’s music. “Now that front row was all girls, with those guys behind them,” he said.
That audience has stayed with the band through its hit making years, with its 2000s albums Morning View, A Crow Left of the Murder and Light Grenades, and as Incubus has entered its fourth decade as a band.
After a few years without touring and a bout of COVID that took him out of rehearsals, Kilmore had to readjust to live performances. “Once you get into it and don’t think about what you have to do, it’s almost like muscle memory. Your body just takes over,” he said.
Kilmore’s muscle memory, however, can’t become rote repetition on tour. Unlike the majority of artists, Incubus plays different songs every show.
“We usually have a structure,” he said. “It’s not just us up there jamming. We’ve got sound guys and lighting guys all trying to do their jobs as well. So we usually keep a good outline—how we’re going to start, maybe a middle section and then switch out some songs in between.
“We’re pretty flexible as a band,” Kilmore said. “Obviously, we’ve been around for so long, we have so many songs we could play, we can throw in audibles as often as we like. We try to keep it fresh every night and do our thing.”
- Who: Incubus with special guest Sublime With Rome
- What: Alternative rock from the ’90s and beyond
- Where: USANA Amphitheatre
- When: Aug. 24, 2022
- Tickets and info: saltlakeamphitheater.com